Broad Street Presbyterian Church

Municipality: Bridgeton
Category: Church, Presbyterian

For much of the 18th century in Bridgetown, which will eventually change its name to Bridgeton, there existed no church for Presbyterians, who were a large and growing segment of the local population. For church services they are forced to either conduct services in the Courthouse or travel to churches in Greenwich, Fairfield or Deerfield several miles away. In 1792, about two acres of land were donated along King’s Highway which was the main road from Bridgeton to Greenwich and ran along the south end of the church construction site. In 1800, this main route was relocated to the north and is today Broad Street (Route 49).

The basic design of Broad Street Presbyterian Church was set by its congregation and organizers, who requested a masonry building with dimensions of at least forty by fifty feet. By December 1792, the brick walls and roof has been completed, but it would take another three years for the interior to be finished.

The design of Broad Street Presbyterian Church is that of a meeting house, almost square in proportion. In the seventeenth and early eighteenth century, many American houses of worship were built in meeting house form. This design was in contrast to the more formal churches of the period, which were more rectangular than square, with an alter and/or communion table and pulpit approached by a long nave, and often divided from the congregation by a railing. Broad Street Presbyterian Church has a tall pulpit, accessed by a winding stair and surrounded on three sides by pews so an many congregants as possible could attend and sit as close as possible to the preacher.

Above the pulpit is one of the most significant architectural features of the church, the Palladian window, with its central window and semicircular arch flanked on each side by smaller windows and all unified by an entablature supported by columns. The name “Palladian” comes from the Venetian architect who originated the design, Andrea Palladio, who worked in the sixteenth century. Architects in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would often travel from other parts of Europe to Italy to study architecture, and they brought the Palladian style back to England and the American Colonies. Thomas Jefferson acquired an intense appreciation of Palladian architecture and used it extensively in his design for Monticello.

By 1835, the congregation had erected a new church, but because the Broad Street church was surrounded by the cemetery, the congregation did not abandon or sell it, but rather maintained it exactly as they left it, which is why today it is identified as one of the most pristine and unaltered examples of eighteenth century church architecture in the United States.

Today, Broad Street Presbyterian Church is used for special services and open to the public by appointment. It is carefully maintained by the Presbyterian congregation of First Presbyterian Church located on Commerce Street, Bridgeton.